From the Ancestry
When the Index Does Not Help
The continuing release of additional indexes and finding aids opens up new worlds to family historians and relieved us of the burden of hours of page-by-page searching. I have found records in minutes that would have been virtually impossible to find otherwise.
However, the location of my great-grandfather's 1893 death certificate reminded me that not every record will be easily located in an index. This week we look briefly at that certificate and discuss when a manual search is necessary and what needs to be known before that search can begin.
1893 Birth Certificate
If all I had to use to find this record was the entry in the index (solely the name), it could have easily been overlooked.
Methodical researchers searching for a surname such as Ufkes would easily recognize Ufcuss as a variant spelling and view the actual record. However, if the first letter had been read and indexed as something other than a "U"� the index reference would have been more difficult, if not impossible, to find. Locating this record required a manual search of the records, which took much longer than using an index.
Page by page searches of records are often necessary because failure to locate an entry in the index does not mean the desired event was not recorded. It could simply mean that the item was overlooked, the handwriting was difficult to read, or the name was spelled incorrectly. Regardless of the reason, the researcher who has good cause to believe the item was actually recorded will need to search each record individually. Before any search of this type is conducted, the researcher should have:
The Structure of the Records
It is usually necessary to know more than just a name when searching for a record of this type. The actual amount of additional detail needed will vary; depending upon several factors. The two most important concerns are how common the name is and the population of the area. Searches for a common name in a highly populated area require more identifying information than do searches for unusual names in sparsely settled regions. Bear in mind however, that even in a rural setting, there may be more than one individual with the same unusual name (often named after the same unusually named grandparent!).
Estimate the Date
Estimate the Location
Learn Other Information
Put It In Context
There are many times when a manual search of records is necessary. Indexes are fine, but if you have just cause to believe something should be recorded in a certain place in a certain time, search those records one by one. You may be able to find that missing ancestor.
Michael John Neill is the Course I Coordinator at the Genealogical Institute of Mid America (GIMA) held annually in Springfield, Illinois, and is also on the faculty of Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Illinois. Michael is currently a member of the board of the Federation of Genealogical Societies (www.fgs.org). He conducts seminars and lectures nationally on a wide variety of genealogical and computer topics and contributes to several genealogical publications, including Ancestry Magazine and Genealogical Computing. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his website at www.rootdig.com, but he regrets that he is unable to assist with personal research.
Copyright 2005, MyFamily.com.